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Death in Rome Paperback – June 17, 2001


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

First published in 1954, Koeppen's novel is a genuine lost classic, a penetrating examination of the angst, anguish and anger that infected Germany after WWII. The novel's vehicle for exploration is a clan living in postwar exile in Rome that pushes the definition of an extended family to its limits. The group consists of elder statesman Gottlieb Judejahn, a former high-ranking SS officer; his brother-in-law Friedrich Pfaffrath, who also held Nazi office; and their respective sons, Adolf Judejahn, a Catholic priest, and Siegfried Pfaffrath, a composer of serial music. According to Hofmann's excellent introduction, "these four represent the four principal areas of German achievement, or the four quarters of the riven German soul: murder, bureaucracy, theology and music." As both archetypes and individuals, they provide Koeppen with fertile ground for his extended meditations on war, art, religion and the transformations that affected both German society and the world immediately before and during WWII. The family members rarely interact with one another, but there are several significant scenes when their paths cross, most notably during a concert featuring Siegfried's work and when both Gottlieb and Adolph Judejahn pursue a Jewish barmaid named Laura who works in a gay Roman bar. The rich reservoir of Roman history (in which Germans have had a presence since Alaric the Goth) serves as a perfect backdrop for Koeppen's observations, and the fate of Gottlieb Judejahn as he pursues the barmaid is perhaps the ultimate metaphor for the postwar fate of the Nazis. This startling title shows Koeppen to be every inch Gunter Grass's equal in analyzing the intellectual side of Germany's rise and fall, and richly deserves a new level of visibility. (June)Forecast: Advance buzz is proclaiming this a dark horse stunner. NYRB readers are the core audience, but look for broader popularity and strong sales and a long backlist life if reviewers anoint it a classic of modern German literature.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

German great Koeppen first published this highly regarded novel in 1954. The plot follows the personal histories of four men who symbolize music, bureaucracy, arms, and religion, which represent the components of the German soul.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (June 17, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393321940
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393321944
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.6 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.3 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #596,536 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Michael Hofmann was born in 1957 in Freiburg, Germany, and came to England in 1961. He has published four volumes of poems and won a Cholmondeley Award and the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize for poetry. His translations have won many awards, including the Independent's Foreign Fiction Award, the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and the P.E.N./Book of the Month Club Translation Prize. His reviews and criticism are gathered in Behind the Lines (2001).

Customer Reviews

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Digital Rights
The sheer number of profound statements in this book is a testament to the genius of Wolfgang Koeppen.
Patrick
This is a powerful novel, one which I'll need to reread in order to appreciate it more fully.
Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By taking a rest HALL OF FAME on March 26, 2002
Format: Paperback
"Death In Rome", by Wolfgang Koeppen is characterized by Michael Hoffmann, who both translated the work, and wrote the introduction as, "the most devastating novel about the Germans I have ever read". This book was written in 1954 and when published caused a massive reaction, almost exclusively negative, for the primary characters were either participants in, or the offspring of the World War II Nazi regime. Published only 9 years after the defeat of The Third Reich, its subject matter was still white hot and equally sensitive. This was during a time when people were trying to put the past irrevocably behind them in the hope that time would provide distance, and distance would erode the world's memory.
Everything in this book is at the very least provocative even when read from a distance of 50 years. The author even names his characters to overtly provoke, and incite. Gottlieb Judejahn and the other primary characters are family and obviously share the last name. Gottlieb's possession of the name is arguably the most notorious. He is generously characterized as an unreconstructed Nazi SS Officer whose last name combines the word for Jew with the balance that translates to madness, and weed out. Another name Pfaffrath is a disrespectful name for a priest, and the name Adolf needs no elaboration. The author evens ratchets up the tension when the son (the Priest Adolf) of the unrepentant SS Officer witnesses his father as he fouls a room deep in The Vatican. The author says that as he watched, "Adolf Wept".
These examples are just parts of the setting that surround a bizarre family reunion in Rome. While unfortunate that Mr. Koeppen's work was so suppressed; it is not a stretch to understand why.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Digital Rights on April 18, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is a masterpiece. It has the wow factor. Somewhere around page 10 I felt I was reading something very different and unique. This is about how people confront or deny cataclysmic events where they played a role. I'd never heard of this book or writer before coming across the excellent reviews that precede mine. There was no letdown. You get a front row seat on German relatives of all types dealing with the past, present and future. It's early 1950's. The family for overlapping reasons are in Rome.

Within this small group Wolfgang Koeppen captures perhaps most of the ways Germans reacted to defeat, the holocaust and the new world. There is the unrepentant ex-General Judejahn, coming back from exile in Africa. He is perhaps the most vivid character; physically repulsive - fleshy, sweating with massive paws for hands hoping he may return home AND be welcome showing his full conceit.

His wife Eva may be the most evil as she longs the Nazism that gave her status and allowed her to channel and direct her hatred which is now reserved for her son who's chosen the Catholic Church to find meaning and solace knowing his family was central to the killing machines and death camps. She is raw with anger and dominating in her brief appearances.

There is Friedrich Pfaffrath, a deeply amoral character representing the feeble enablers to the pre War madness who then make themselves useful to the allies later. They live in a denial of past deeds that is hard to fathom.

While the story takes place in Rome, Koeppen gives us haunting flashbacks; very brief almost photographs that tells of their previous lives during the War. Koeppen makes it very clear that each of the older crowd was not just "following orders". They are responsible. We can see it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Friederike Knabe VINE VOICE on February 22, 2011
Format: Paperback
Wolfgang Koeppen's 'Death in Rome' is a profound and thought-provoking novel written in the mid-fifties. While set against the backdrop of Rome, the main theme is a portrayal of the early after-war German society. It is a remarkable book for several reasons. When first published, it was either criticized or, more commonly, ignored only to be praised a few years later by some of Germany's great authors such as Grass and Boll. Death in Rome was the third book of a trilogy, written by Koeppen in quick succession at the time - all addressing aspects of the "new" Germany. It was followed by 40 years of literary silence, except for travel writings and a short autobiography of his youth. Nevertheless, he is now regarded as one of the best German literary authors and his work has experienced a revival since his death in 1996.

The members of one family meet, more or less by chance, in Rome. The protagonists each personify one aspect of German society: the military, the bureaucracy, religion and art. Koeppen weaves the complex story around an unrepentant former SS man, a then and now middle-level bureaucrat, a young priest and a young composer. The latter two being the sons of the older generation. Symbolism and mythology meet the reader everywhere. The links between Germany and Rome are multifaceted, reaching well back in time. The main characters' names were selected for their meanings: Judejahn for the SS man and Adolf for his priestly son. Siegfried, his young, gay composer cousin, explores experimental music that was forbidden during the Nazi period. He also befriends a conductor and his Jewish wife who had escaped the camps.

There are different levels of connections between the different characters as they move in and out of focus of the story line.
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